A new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open reveals that artificial sweeteners in diet soda make women and obese people crave more sugary food. Published by researchers from the University of Southern California, the study finds that diet drinks may not have calories, but they make vulnerable people crave more for food.

Artificial Sweeteners in Diet Soda Make Women Experience Higher Food Cravings

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is often used in diet soda. Researchers found that it stimulates the appetite in some people – females and fat people – by reducing the activity of the hormone that suppresses appetite.

“We found that females and people with obesity had greater brain reward activity,” said Katie page, a physician specializing in obesity. “I think what was most surprising was the impact of body weight and biological sex. They were very important factors in the way that the brain responded to the artificial sweetener.”

The authors of the research said people feel like eating more food after consuming drinks with artificial sweeteners. But this is not the case when they take drinks with normal sugar. Incidentally, males and people with normal body weight do not feel more hunger after consuming artificially sweetened drinks. This suggests that sucralose may not be advisable for people willing to observe a strict diet regime.

To determine the way people respond to diet soda, the researchers applied three techniques. They recruited 74 participants and divided them into three parts. For the first group, MRI brain images of the parts of the brain associated with food desire and cravings were scanned. For the second group, their blood samples were collected to analyze the amount of sugar and metabolic hormones responsible for hunger.

And for the third group, their body indices were taken during meals arranged for the end of each study session.

Incidentally, several studies have not been able to establish whether consumption of diet soda aids weight loss goals. In fact, a few studies suggest that soda is associated with weight gain when consumed for a long period. Laura Schmidt, a professor of health policy at the University of California in San Francisco, said it is likely that artificial sweeteners are activating the brains of fat people to demand high-calorie foods.

Susan Swithers, a behavioral scientist at Purdue University, said artificial sweeteners in soda influence food metabolism and body weight. A study found that sweeteners may be able to trick the body into expecting real sugar after tasting sweeteners due to natural conditioning. But since the sugar does not come, it reduces the acuteness of the body to anticipate sugary responses even when sugar is consumed after sweeteners.

“You are supposed to get sugar after something tastes sweet,” Swithers said. “Your body has been conditioned to that. When you get the sweet taste without the sugar, that changes how you respond to sugar the next time because you don’t know whether it’s coming or not.”